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On The Means and Ends of Anthropology with Special Reference to the U.S. American Academe

A Reply to Gupta and Stoolman's ‘Decolonizing U.S. Anthropology’


  • Alexander Thomson UCLA


Activism, Action Anthropology, American Anthropologist, Autoethnography, Critical Anthropology, Culture Concept, Cultural Particularism, Decolonizing Anthropology, Epistemics, Ethics, Ethnography, Human Ecology, Paradigm Shift, Sociology, Science and Humanities


Gupta and Stoolman's presidential address is the most recent symptom of our on-going disciplinary crisis. According to Kuhn, a scientific crisis occurs when a reigning paradigm (i.e. a procedure for setting-up and solving scientific ‘puzzles’ with pre-existing apparatuses, concepts, exemplars and techniques) obtrudes against “anomalous” cases. In a crisis, the reigning paradigm is called into question and the community is called to invent a new paradigm capable of accounting for the anomalous cases. In this essay, I argue that our disciplinary crisis is due to the duplicity of the Nacirema project, whereby “scientific objectivity” (e.g. cultural particularism and relativism) was reserved for foreign subjects of anthropological study and “moralistic subjectivity” (e.g. liberal antiracism or sexual liberalism) was reserved for the domestic subject of anthropological critique. This procedure of using “scientific objectivity” abroad as a cover for a “moralistic reform” at home began to founder when, faced with the disappearance of “traditional societies,” anthropologists began to conduct ethnographies in their own (post-)industrial society. It now faces a further challenge in the changing complexion of our corps professionel. Here I argue that anthropology should radicalize its scientific commitments by abandoning its moralistic “reflex” as well as its penchant for ethnographic research.


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